Cheyenne and Tory are both from Alaska where Tory still lives, Cheyenne having moved to Scotland some years ago. Tory plays fiddle and keyboards and owns a studio from which he works by internet; Cheyenne plays harp and gets about a bit more and Road Soda is packed with traditional music from all over the world.
The record opens with a pretty little Finnish tune called ‘Eva’s Polka’ and moves on to ‘Tongadale Reel’, a tune written about a pub in Portree. By the end of this you’re getting the feeling that all is not as straightforward as it might at first appear. Drummer Vinnie Palazzotto and bass-player Joe Eunice are beginning to make their presence apparent and Tory certainly isn’t playing a piano continuo. There are some serious electronics involved and Tory’s fiddle playing has a definite swing style verging on jazz. I swear there’s an electric guitar on one track, too, but no-one owns up to it so it’s probably Joe’s bass.
We’re all familiar with what can be done with folk music by imaginative players but Cheyenne and Tory do seem to have a style all their own. On one hand, ‘Mary’s Dream’, is a very traditional harp piece underpinned with fiddle – except for the percussion and delicate bass line which take it off somewhere else. On the other, Fred Morrison’s ‘Lochaber Badger’ is a heavy fiddle piece with the engine room at full power and Cheyenne’s harp singing over the top.
Road Soda is not an album to get precious about. There are some fine tunes and great playing from both Cheyenne and Tory: delicacy sometimes from her and power sometimes from him and it’s a record that’s gone almost before you know it.
Taking time out from fronting American Aquarium, Barnham’s solo debut, Rockingham, draws on his observations of people and places, from growing up in hometown Reidsville to his current life in Raleigh, small town stories that may not be autobiographical but still feel very real.
Working with a basic format of guitar, banjo, bass and drum, musically, this is dusty Americana, infused with such notable influences as Springsteen and Prine, the latter notably evident in the midtempo chugging opening number ‘American Tobacco Company’ (Reidsville was once a thriving tobacco producing community before the depression), a song about a WWII veteran returning home to the only work he can get, but accepting the reality rather than being crushed by dreams of what might have been.
Introducing harmonica, another song about the hard scrabble blue collar life and settling for what you have, the slow strummed title track is a nostalgic homage for his home country that comes with another tobacco reference and a salute to the town where, “raised on broken promises and glory days”, he became a man. But, again, while there may be regret, there’s no sense of bitterness.
BJ and wife Rachael, who he married in 2014, don’t yet have kids, but ‘Madeline’ is a tender letter to his daughter-to-be, that of a father offering such “sound advice and Southern attitude” as “pride is as dangerous as it is essential”, “never trust a man who does hard drugs in his 30s”, and that the “most valuable thing you can give someone is you time”.
But, if that is a song suffused with hope, the spare, simply strummed ‘Unfortunate Kind’, the most obvious Springsteen influence, is heartbreakingly wracked with loss, as, two years after her death, the narrator reflects on his wife falling ill to a terminal illness (“there were days I’d come to visit, you didn’t even know my name”) and gradually fading way (“until the nurses pulled me away and said ‘there’s nothing you can do’”), but, while heavy in grief, taking to heart Mickey Newbury’s advice to remember the good.
The tempo may pick up with ‘O’ Lover’, but the mood remains sober as the harmonica-blowing narrative tells of a farmer whom, when the crops fail, drawing up a plan for him and his lover to hold up a one-man store two counties over in order to keep his family from going under. There are obvious to the stories on ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’, but the chorus of “you can’t call yourself a farmer just because you plant a seed, you must bargain with the dirt, your hands must blister, they must bleed, only then will you find beauty not in the bloom, but in the weeds” puts me more in mind of John Mellencamp and Neil Young’s work for Farm Aid.
The album’s final stretch kick off with the softly shuffling ‘Road To Nowhere’, calling to mind Kristofferson’s brand of roots-country in its tale of a guy whose lover walks out on him, looking for a better life and commitment (“like Judas, she rebuked my name for jewels and silver pieces, a wedding ring”). As you might surmise, accompanied by dobro, ‘Reidsville’ is about his hometown and those who, doomed souls, stuck in love and with no road out, live out their broken dreams (“now her eyes are darker than funeral serenade”) in such decaying small towns (“when it comes my day to die, I want to look God in the eyes and ask him why he gave up on this place”).
The album closes with its longest track, the near six-minute, piano and pedal steel-accompanied, hymnal-like ‘Water In The Well’ and a dirt farmer’s suicidal despair and desperate prayer as “a hundred years of sweat and blood” end in foreclosure as he asks “what will I do when all else fails, what will I do when no water’s in the well and what will I do when there’s nothing left to sell?” Faced with the choice of leaving behind everything he’s known for the vague chance of finding work somewhere else in “a world I’ve never seen”, it offers the bittersweet wisdom that “the bottom doesn’t look so bad when the bottom’s all you know”.
It may not be the most uplifting album you’ll ever hear, but, heartfelt and heartbreaking, it’s one of the best that Americana has produced this decade.
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Cupola:Ward is a co-operative venture between Cupola – Doug Euson, Sarah Matthews and Oli Matthews – and Lucy Ward. All four come from Derbyshire, a county that’s on the rise in breeding singers and musicians, but only three of the songs originate there. The template for their debut album, Bluebell, comes from what some of us still think of as a golden age: some traditional songs and a couple of covers, nothing too outré but variations on the familiar.
The set opens with a high energy take on Julie Matthews’ ‘Crane Driver’, originally written for the 2006 Radio Ballads. It’s a great song and Cupola:Ward do it full justice. They follow that with Tucker Zimmerman’s ‘Taoist Tale’ paired with ‘Blew Bell Hornpipe’; a philosophical song enlivened with a sparkling tune . The first native song is ‘Jacob’s Well’ a version specifically from a Derbyshire collection and now we’ve had a touch of rock, a bit of thoughtfulness and unaccompanied four-part harmony. If you want to draw comparisons with Muckram Wakes I won’t stand in your way.
The band does odd things with the timing of ‘Sprig Of Thyme’ and mix it with ‘Playing For Thyme’, a tune of Doug’s. The song, like so many venerable compositions, can suffer from over-familiarity and Cupola:Ward’s changes draw you back to the text with new ears. The second Derbyshire song is ‘Damped In His Groove’ written, coincidentally, by an old school friend and musical cohort of mine, Geoff Convery. It’s about lead mining, a subject that Geoff has researched extensively, specifically the death of a miner who died where he worked – damped in his groove, as the saying went. The third local song is ‘Squire Of Tamworth’ a song which, while never actually falling out of fashion, is definitely back in again.
The medley of The Beatles’ ‘Nowhere Man’ with an 18th century dance tune is a pleasant diversion and there are three more contrasting traditional songs: ‘Willie’s Lady’, ‘Heather Down The Moor’ and ‘Gower Wassail’ before the set ends with ‘Normandy Orchards’ by the late and much lamented Keith Marsden. Keith (and Cockersdale) gave us a lot of fun over the years but perhaps this is a good moment in time to look again at his more serious work and for someone to revisit those songs.
Bluebell is one of the unexpected delights that comes with this job. It’s my sort of record so thank you, Cupola:Ward.
Having gained considerable attention with an EP late last year, Philip Murray Warson has made two new tracks available online.
‘The Trees They Grow So High’ is his own, rousing arrangement of a traditional folk song. The recording features Helen O’Hara on the violin, familiar to many for her work with Dexys Midnight Runners – most famously on ‘Come on Eileen’ and the ‘Too-Rye-Aye’ album – and the current line-up of Dexys.
The track has immediately gained the attention of Mark Radcliffe of BBC RADIO 2, who featured the song on his Wednesday-night folk show.
‘The Falling Of The Leaves’ is a setting of a poem by WB Yeats. While also drawing from folk-influences, it has more electric instrumentation, with leanings towards psychedelic rock, including a Hammond organ part from Sam Beer of Treetop Flyers.
Both tracks are available as free downloads, via SoundCloud and alongside his previous release on BandCamp.
Last year’s Last Of The Hunted EP featured almost instantaneously on BBC Introducing in his native Oxfordshire, as well some influential folk music blogs. It also came to the attention of legendary DJ Bob Harris, leading to an invite perform for the Under The Appletree Sessions, which have featured some of the leading emerging artists in folk, roots and country from both sides of the Atlantic.
With further material set to be made available this year, Philip Murray Warson has firmly established himself as an artist to watch for 2016.
After the incredible success of her previous two singles ‘Cool’and ‘Home’, Twinnie is set to release her self-titled debut EP, out on 29th July 2016 via TLM Records.
The EP explores different themes of love and loss under the guise of her signature country pop style. Opening track and previous single ‘Cool’ evokes memories of times gone by, whilst latest single ‘Home’ is about the difficulties of losing love. The next track ‘Lie To Me’ is a stunning ballad, which portrays Twinnie’s vulnerability with her extremely emotive vocal performance before the EP finishes with ‘Looking Out For You’ – a heartwarming song about Twinnie’s relationship with her grandad.
After securing a publishing deal with Universal, Twinnie has branched out into all areas of the entertainment industry. She has performed backing vocals for the likes of Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke (‘Blurred Lines’ and BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge), Brian May and Roger Taylor to name but a few. Although her roots are in England, Twinnie also travels extensively to LA and Nashville, working alongside the critically acclaimed songwriters behind artists such as Pink, James Bay, The Shires and Jason Mraz.
Despite being relatively new to the country scene, Twinnie’s first single ‘Cool’ reached number 2 in the iTunes county charts and second single ‘Home’ peaked at number 3. Twinnie has also already received support from the likes of Heat Magazine, Digital Spy, Think Country and Songwriting Magazine and is now focusing her talents solely on music.
Twinnie is out on Friday 29th July 2016 via TLM Records, whilst singles Cool and Home are out now and available to buy on iTunes and all good online retailers.